Days after the Supreme Court announced it would take up the first abortion case of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s term, abortion foes are all but chilling bottles of Champagne.
The Louisiana law at the heart of the case requires abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles; anti-abortion activists have been hoping that the now- reliably conservative court would rule the law constitutional, effectively forcing two of the state’s three abortion clinics to close.
“We’ve been waiting on this,” said Alexandra Seghers, director of education for Louisiana Right to Life. The law was enacted in 2014, but it’s been halted from taking effect while the Supreme Court considered whether to act. “We are definitely excited that it’s gonna finally be heard and a decision is gonna be made,” she added.
And while the law doesn’t directly challenge
Roe v. Wade
, anti-abortion activists haven’t lost sight of the grand prize.
“The Supreme Court can address the viability of
Roe v. Wade
in any abortion case that comes before the court,” said Steve Aden, chief legal officer for the national anti-abortion organization Americans United for Life. He added, “At the very least we’ll get, I expect, quite a lot more clarity on where the court stands on abortion by the end of this term in June.”
The fact that the court is devoting time to the case at all signals that there are justices who may be less than satisfied with its 2016 decision to strike down a Texas law nearly identical to the Louisiana regulation. At the time, abortion rights activists heralded that case — Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt — as a sweeping smackdown of so-called TRAP laws, or “targeted regulations of abortion providers.” They say laws that demand abortion providers have local admitting privileges are medically unnecessary and aimed at forcing clinics to shutter.
Abortion rights supporters say that if the Supreme Court lets Louisiana’s law go into effect, the protections once guaranteed by Whole Woman’s Health will be gutted.
Lawyers at the Center for Reproductive Rights had asked the Supreme Court to rule without even hearing oral arguments because they felt the case’s outcome was so obvious.
“This is the very definition of an open-and-shut case. The facts, the law, and the Constitution have not changed since 2016,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told reporters during a call Friday.
The administrator of the Louisiana abortion clinic that sued over the law was disappointed that the justices believe they need to hear arguments in her case.
“My initial reaction was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m relieved, I’m relieved, OK, they’re going to hear my case,’” Kathaleen Pittman of Hope Medical Group for Women told VICE News. “Then that was immediately replaced with frustration and absolute anger. Why are they having to hear this?”
None of the anti-abortion activists who spoke with VICE News, however, believed that the precedent set by the Whole Woman’s Health decision would be necessarily nullified if Louisiana's law is allowed to go into effect. They maintained that the Whole Woman’s Health ruling was narrow, and didn’t necessarily apply to every state that has mandated that abortion providers get admitting privileges.
“Should the constitutionality of each state’s admitting privileges laws be judged on the basis of that state’s own facts and circumstances?” Aden said. “Yes. That’s the way the Supreme Court has set this up. They preside as the nation’s chief abortion regulator.”
If the Supreme Court rules in their favor, that take will likely be cemented as true.
“I know it surprises some of those on the pro-abortion side, who probably were relying on the fact that the Supreme Court has often gone many, many years between decisions,” added Kristi Hamrick, chief media strategist for Students for Life, which has representatives on more than 1,200 campuses. “But that’s inappropriate. The court should weigh in on this human rights issue.”
This year, Students for Life is not only lobbying legislators, but the group’s president is also embarking on a fall speaking tour about “a world after Roe,” Hamrick said. Students for Life has always focused on preparing the country for the day after the Supreme Court overturns Roe, Hamrick said, even though people used to laugh at that mission.
“Now, many of us, even on the pro-choice side of things, believe that’s not only possible but probable.”
Cover: Pro-life abortion protesters, with red tape over their mouths, stand in silent protest on the first day of the new session of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)